The kit list to end all kit lists

Here’s a treat for all you gear nerds.

A few weeks ago I found myself with a spare morning (or at least, the disinclination to fill it with anything more useful), and decided to spend it clearing out my panniers, going through all my stuff, tidying, itemizing, editing and repacking it all.

I was staying with a couple who have almost a century of hiking and bike touring between them, and who have, over the years, whittled down the amount they carry to almost nothing. The contrast with my bulging panniers couldn’t be greater, and I’m quite embarrassed by how many duplicate pieces of kit I’ve been carrying, unused, for the last thousand miles – just in case. Of course, I didn’t know when I started this trip exactly what I’d need to keep me alive, and was terrified of the thought that I might perish somewhere along the lonely wastes of the Alaska Highway for want of that fifth baselayer. For future winter rides, I reckon I’ll be able to carry about two thirds of my current load.

So here’s a peep into my panniers. I haven’t edited the contents in any way – I just emptied out what happened to be in them on that particular day, so you’ll get an authentic snapshot of what I might be carrying at any given moment, food wrappers and all.

Sleeping system

Here you see (l-r) a large bivvy bag (Alpkit Hunka), an inflatable mat (Thermarest), with a foil-backed foam mat (Mountain Warehouse) underneath it and my down booties (REI) on top. The yellow sleeping bag (PHD Hispar 600) is meant to be good down to -21C, and the orange one (PHD Hispar Combi) down to -6C). Together, I was informed, they provide a sleep system suitable for -45C, though I’ve found I get a bit shivery anywhere below -40. (Not necessarily an inadequacy in the bags – it could also have something to do with what else I’m wearing, how tired/hungry I am, how much moisture the bags are holding (if I don’t get a chance to dry them for a few days, they end up losing a lot of their loft) and how long I spend sitting around cooking and eating after getting off the bike and before getting in the bags.)

To pack this up, I put the booties at the bottom of the yellow sleeping bag, put the yellow sleeping bag inside the orange one, and roll the result up with the (deflated) Thermarest inside the bivvy bag. That way it’s all very quickly accessible in an emergency, and also makes for minimal faffing in that tired period after I get off the bike and just want to be asleep. The foam mat rolls up separately and sits on the top of my rear rack.

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The final part of my sleeping system, I suppose, is my tent – in this case a Hilleberg Soulo, of which I’m very fond, because it’s robust, cosy, freestanding (vital in conditions where the ground’s frozen solid and you can’t hammer in pegs), vents well and goes up and down very quickly. It packs into a neat bag which I strap onto my Alpkit handlebar harness.

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Rear left pannier

This is my more accessible pannier (since I always dismount on the left side of the bike and lean it on the right side), so it contains everything I’m going to need for a night in the tent, meaning that in many cases I can leave the other pannier attached to the bike. (Let’s pretend this is motivated by efficiency rather than laziness.)

Here you see (roughly from top to bottom):

  • spare boot liners (courtesy of Tom in Palmer)
  • blue drybag containing (far too many) chargers and batteries
  • studded rubber soles for boots (courtesy of Richard in Iskut)
  • miscellaneous Ortlieb spares, elastic straps, plastic bags and puncture kits
  • small bag containing pens, and an eyeliner pencil I’ve never used
  • net bag containing titanium cooking pot, silicone bowl and cup, spork, and miscellaneous cooking stuff
  • firelighters
  • drybags, cotton bags and the stuff sacks from my sleeping bags and Thermarest
  • file of Important Documents
  • Heet for alcohol stove
  • MSR fuel bottle (currently empty)
  • MSR fuel bottle with MSR pump attached (currently half full)
  • stove (MSR Whisperlite Internationale), in bag that also contains spare pump (broken), spare matches and foil screen
  • spaghetti
  • pile of letters, photos, emergency LRB and other mementos

You probably want to know what’s inside the drybags, don’t you? Of course you do.

Here’s all the chargers I’m carrying. I hate the amount of space they take up. This is one of the things I most urgently intend to address for future expeditions.

Roughly from top to bottom, left to right, this is:

  • spare battery pack for front light (Light & Motion)
  • charger for L&M batteries
  • handful of assorted USB connectors
  • USB converter
  • complicated universal charger for camera
  • dictaphone
  • external battery charger (for iphone; courtesy of Tom in Palmer)
  • small torch
  • iphone charger
  • charger for other front light (not currently working)
  • laptop charger
  • two sets of headphones I never use
  • spare batteries (AA and AAA)

And here’s the contents of my cooking pot.

Moving left to right, we have:

  • a tacky pink hipflask (thanks brother) containing emergency single malt
  • a scourer I bought in Toudeshk, central Iran, three years ago
  • collapsible silicone bowl (rarely used)
  • spork (indispensible)
  • packet soup
  • fire steel (Light My Fire)
  • Whitebox alcohol stove (thanks Iain!)
  • collapsible silicone cup (also rarely used)
  • titanium cooking pot (unwashed; capacity 1300ml)
  • lid
  • sachet of hot chocolate
  • matches

Rear right pannier

This is the stuff I’m less likely to want to access every day; mostly clothing. It is currently so full I’m having trouble closing it, which means that once it is closed, I’ll go to great lengths to avoid opening it again.

The Paddington Bear keyring was a present from my sister when I was in Pakistan.

  • green drybag full of clothes
  • orange drybag containing case for GoPro (which usually lives on helmet)
  • notebook
  • chemical hand warmers
  • case for sunglasses
  • vacuum flask (rarely used)
  • laptop (cheap, disposable and infuriating)
  • spare bungees (unused)
  • canvas tote bag (unused)
  • PAC tool pouch
  • spare inner tube
  • non-latex gloves

And what’s inside the green drybag? Far too much…

I try to pack in order of usefulness – i.e. things I’m less likely to need, like my swimming costume, are at the bottom; things I’m more likely to need, like a warm fleece and spare socks, are at the top. On reflection, I could have done without almost all of this. Half the baselayers I’m carrying have never seen the light of day.

In order of emergence:

  • fluffy white fleece (66 North)
  • handknitted socks (from a Finnish genius)
  • handknitted socks (from H. Outen)
  • merino boxers (Icebreaker)
  • merino baselayer (Howies)
  • merino baselayer (Icebreaker)
  • merino longjohns (Icebreaker – thank you S. Outen!)
  • merino socks (Pearl Izumi)
  • merino longjohns (Howies)
  • waterproof hat (Sealskinz)
  • bamboo cotton tshirt (Swrve)
  • handknitted gloves (thank you H. Outen!)
  • synthetic neckwarmer (Alpkit)
  • merino glove liners (Icebreaker)
  • swimming cap and goggles
  • 2 x cotton boxers (unused)
  • waterproof gloves (Sealskinz)
  • swimming costume
  • thermal baselayer (Pearl Izumi; unused)
  • synthetic baselayer (Helly Hansen; unused)
  • waterproof socks (Sealskinz)
  • cotton trousers (Swrve)
  • travel towel (Lifeventure)

What do I actually wear then?

Here’s my typical on-bike attire. (Obviously it varies according to temperature.)

From the top:

  • winter boots (Sorel Caribou)
  • hydration backpack (worn under jacket to stop contents from freezing)
  • helmet, with GoPro camera (not mine; property of PHD)
  • ski mask (Mountain Warehouse)
  • neoprene face mask (here be icicles)
  • windproof gloves (acquired in Gorgona in Veliko Tarnovo, autumn 2011)
  • merino buff
  • merino cycling cap (Swrve)
  • Swrve Milwaukee hoodie (an old favourite)
  • hi-viz tabard
  • merino mid layer (Mountain Warehouse)
  • fleece gilet (courtesy of Loretta at Jake’s Corner)
  • Rapha deep winter merino baselayer
  • Swrve winter trousers (on their fourth season)
  • merino longjohns (Icebreaker)
  • merino/silk boxers (Kathmandu)
  • sports bra
  • merino socks (Pearl Izumi)
  • woollen hiking socks (from my grandmother)

I don’t have front panniers, by I do have a couple of drybags attached to the Salsa Anything Cages mounted on my front forks.

Originally they were both red (from Alpkit), but the one containing food didn’t strap on so well when only half full, and fell off one day when I was preoccupied with riding through a blizzard, so I had to replace it when I got to Whitehorse.

The red one contains a down jacket (Alpkit Filo).

The yellow one currently contains two sachets of instant mashed potato, a bag of home made porridge mix (usually there are 3-5 of these), a box of halva, a small bag of dried fruit and a bag of glove liners and hand warmers, given to me by a very kind man near Kluane Lake.

My Alpkit fuel pod (on the top tube) contains:

  • snacks
  • tissues
  • chewing gum
  • hand warmers
  • spare rear light
  • temperature logger
  • electrical tape
  • Shewee
  • pen
  • emergency cigar (chocolate)
  • spare spoon
  • Reese’s peanut butter cups (i.e. crack)

My Alpkit frame bag contains:

  • sausages (garlic flavour)
  • butter (old; needs to be binned)
  • spaghetti
  • assorted energy bars, cereal bars and protein bars
  • hand warmers
  • chocolate
  • packet soups
  • easy-cook rice
  • battery pack for my front light
  • bag of chocolate almonds
  • two pumps (Lezyne and ?)
  • dog-earred map of the Cassiar Highway

My pogies – the thermal hand-protectors that cover my handlebars – tend to be used as nosebags, or just useful places to stash things I might want to grab quickly, or can’t be bothered to put away. Here’s their current contents, unedited.

That’s a couple of pairs of mittens, hand warmers, assorted snacks (jerky, seasame snaps, peanut butter cups, an orange), and a spare headtorch on each side, for some reason.

Bungeed to the back of my bike I usually have a slightly worn-out carrier bag, containing yet more food – some of it things I’ll want readily accessible during the day; some of it things that have sifted to the bottom and been lying there for many week (just in case of emergency).

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Here’s what’s currently in the bag.

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Contents of the bag would appear to be:

  • Three vacuum-packed chunks of pecan slice (from Miche in Whitehorse)
  • Assorted mini-packs of peanut butter and jam (from Linda at Rancheria)
  • Three tortilla wraps, rolled up with cheese and meat
  • Assorted sausages and jerky
  • Discarded wrappers and spare ziplock bags

Alongside the bag, tucked under another bungee, there’s my Nalgene water bottle, with its thermal cover, which stops my water from freezing even down at -30C. This is one of my happiest discoveries of the trip.

IMG_1374On the front of bike is a small zippered pocket that contains things I thought I might want in an emergency, but in reality have rarely looked at.

IMG_1376From top left:

  • disc brake divider thingies (for when bike is dismantled for flying)
  • duct tape
  • whistle
  • instruction manuals for recently purchased lights
  • space blanket
  • Mooncup
  • matches
  • painkillers
  • pen
  • hand warmers

IMG_1373That would be:

  • worn-out glove liners (silk; from Decathlon)
  • iphone
  • matches
  • tissues
  • lip balms (thank you, Tamsin and Michaella!)
  • lucky charm from a man I met in Ankara, three years ago
  • Dogtag insurance ‘document’
  • miscellaneous screw
  • wallet

And that really is everything! I am very very interested to hear everyone’s comments, feelings, advice, and even (for once) criticism, since I’ll be looking to reduce this load significantly for future trips. (I reckon almost my entire wardrobe could have been left behind, with only minor inconvenience.)

And here’s what it looks like when I put it all together, and add a rider.

LE6A6896Photo credit: John Rusyniak

 

Leave a Comment

14 Comments

  1. paul Fow er
    Posted April 10, 2015 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for being so open and sharing your kit. The “What if” and “When if” items mount up, but when you are planning a trip your mind thinks of all these things. It gives you comfort to know you have them “Just in case”.
    When I cycled across Canada two summers ago I took many “If” items. Fortunately my wife and two friends were travelling in a van for the across the Rockies part of my solo voyage and we were able to remove many items that would be surplus to my requirements. Even so, there were still clothes and “spares” that never saw the light of day.
    Having plenty of snacks and instant food were the best items to have, There were many times when I had all my kit spread out on a picnic table or Motel bed and scratched my head.
    Enjoy reading your tweets and blog. Keep up the good work, stay fit and well, pack light, and ride safely.

    Paul Fowler, Toronto. Canada (ex Brit)

  2. Thom
    Posted April 10, 2015 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

    That is possibly more than I have in my house. You must have extraordinary strength to carry it all.

  3. Notak
    Posted April 10, 2015 at 10:02 pm | Permalink

    • a scourer I bought in Toudeshk, central Iran, three years ago
    • titanium cooking pot (unwashed; capacity 1300ml)
    Could the state of these two items be in any way connected? 😉

    ‘Bungeed to the back of my bike I usually have a slightly worn-out carrier bag…’
    I have a love-hate relationship with carrier bags; I hate the way they rustle, wear out, give way beneath loads and dig painfully into your hands, as well as the litter they become and waste of resources they represent, but I love how the designs printed on them turn this universal object into something very specific to one culture. And so I love that yours appears to advertise “Green Yogurt”!

    In practical terms, to reduce your reliance on that bulk of chargers and batteries, would it not be worth looking at a dynamo and one of the headlights with a USB output, such as those from B&M and Axa? Not only would this allow you to charge devices while pedalling, but having lights bolted permanently to your bike means they couldn’t fall off or get lost!

  4. Jan
    Posted April 11, 2015 at 6:23 pm | Permalink

    Wow.

  5. Sam
    Posted April 12, 2015 at 11:52 am | Permalink

    Is that the one that was purchased from the old bike shop in Stokey? It’s an Airace I think.

    • Sam
      Posted April 12, 2015 at 11:53 am | Permalink

      *the pump labelled ‘??’, I mean.

  6. john
    Posted April 12, 2015 at 7:51 pm | Permalink

    I don’t have much to say, I just wanted you to know I loved your adventure. go you! (I just rode the London Classic and at the pub had an eye out for you to say so)

  7. Nick
    Posted April 12, 2015 at 9:38 pm | Permalink

    We will be checking that you bring this lot – and more – to the Cycle Touring Festival!

  8. Thomas Allen
    Posted April 12, 2015 at 10:42 pm | Permalink

    Currently I’m packing for a cycle camping trip from the States to France via UK and trying to avoid gizmo-creep. I’ve weighed everything and listed it on a spreadsheet. We’re up to 30 kilos and counting for the two of us. Now I’m looking for ways to cut kilo, not just grams. I’ll review your list again. When it’s life and death, just-in-case is never too much in my opinion. So I wouldn’t say you over packed.

    I’m using a new B&M headlight that sports a USB charger. Works well. I can listen to music on my Iphone. run the daytime lights and charge the phone all at once. In a two hour period averaging ~11mph the phone gained about four % charge. Given our traffic conditions I run daytime lights. I have no idea how the various plastic parts would fare in extreme cold but they work fine at 10C.

    I’ve adapted much cross-country ski gear to winter cycling. The clothing is much the same to deal with similar issues of sweat, wind, and sub freezing temps. “Wind Stopper” golves go under padded fingerless gloves. I use capaline and silk base layers because that’s what I’ve collected over the years. New sox are merino wool. Raingear is vented and Goretex when available/affordable. I hear marino doesn’t retain odors like capaline. True?

    Your inventory is much like my ski mountaineering kit, minus the obvious avalanche-rescue gear, ski and binding repair kit. Insulated water bottles in favor of hydration packs with hoses for example as you discovered. Space blanket, map, compass, altimeter, glacier glasses etc. My First Aid kit (I didn’t notice on your list) has proven indispensable several times when I’ve come upon injured or hyper/hypothermic people. When traveling in the wild I’ve found the Mountaineering Oriented First Aid class given by our local outdoor club to be a Godsend. We’re sometimes several days away from any medical help and one must do what one can and hope it’s enough. Your situation I suspect is similar. I’ve saved at least one life in a totally unexpected place because of that training.

  9. Posted April 15, 2015 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

    Love the fact you carried an LRB! I carried one round with me too, and also classified it as an “emergency” item in my mind.

  10. Posted April 16, 2015 at 9:17 pm | Permalink

    Don’t tell my Macpac, but I’m in love with your Soulo.

    Have you considered using a vapour barrier to sleep in? It’d help keep your sleeping system moisture free.

    • Posted April 18, 2015 at 11:09 am | Permalink

      I did consider it, but it just sounded too icky for words. I will consider it more seriously for longer trips, but I think I got away with it this time.

  11. Posted April 22, 2015 at 7:16 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the motivation! I’m in a single room in a hostel today, so I’ve pulled out almost all of my gear and given it a thorough looking-through… I’ve got so much stuff I don’t use!

    Other than the technical gear, I agree that it looks like you could ditch a lot of the clothing. For a normal tour, I’d probably hold onto a bit of it if you’re planning on holing up in a few towns for long stretches off the bike, but for a very purposed through-trip, idk.

    Also, stuff like hand-warmer packets are great as emergency gear if you might get wet or don’t have the insulation you need while riding/resting, but if you’re set with your pogies/gloves combo and are unlikely to do river crossings and get rained on, I’d probably ditch them. Plus that’s a lot of extra matches. You can always pick up more matches if you’re running low.

    Something I’ve taken to on this trip is carrying less of things I think I can replace easily. It’s a little more costly when you need to replace something, but it’s helped keep the bulk down a bit for me. Of course this doesn’t apply to certain things, like dulce de leche and cookies!

    I’ve also found that I hate how much volume my “random electronics stuff” bag takes up.

    If it’s practical, I’d ditch anything that requires you to carry that many batteries, I’ve got a Petzl Tikka RXP headlamp I’ve used on my trip and it’s great and USB-chargeable. Plus, if you need to, you can always swap it to normal batteries at any point, which are usually something that can be found “soon enough” to not have to carry them.

    I use USB-chargeable lights, which are enough for my lighting needs. The Knog Blinder R rear light and the Blinder 4 for the front. There’s no battery-replacement option there, but I figure they’re in the “soon enough” category of replaceability that I don’t worry about spares.

    From my own stash, I carry a Voltaic 10W solar charger, which is overkill and I’ll be ditching it after this trip. It’s been useful, but not useful enough. That said, the battery pack that it comes with is awesome for charging everything essential (and then some) on the road between towns (where I prefer to spend a lot of time), so I don’t have to worry about running out of juice on my USB-rechargeable stuff while I’m away from a power grid.

    Thanks so much for the exhaustive gear list. I’ll be looking for a follow-up down the road to see what you actually end up ditching for your next trip. I’ve been day-dreaming about a cold-weather tour for a while now, so I’ll definitely be consulting your blog while I kit up.

    Tailwinds!

  12. Posted May 2, 2015 at 11:40 am | Permalink

    Emily,

    Great write up. Thanks

    Regarding the Caribou boots. How do you find them & have you sized up from your normal size ?

    I am planning on doing the Rovaniemi 150 next year & footwear is my biggest dilemma.